Days are lengthening, birds are migrating north, and baby vegetables are starting to appear in the markets.
All these lovely signs show us that spring is not just an entry on the calendar, but a real and present gift from nature. So what better time than now for a luscious and verdant spring soup?
One of my all-time favorite soups of any season--a bright green, pureed snow pea soup--hailed from the Tea Box Cafe, in the basement of the now-closed Japanese department store Takashimaya in Manhattan. The erstwhile Tea Box was a hidden gem within a veritable treasure trove of beauty and refinement. Located beneath several floors of lavish bed linens, ethereal flowers, princely baby gear, esoteric travel gadgets and, modern-yet-classic fashion in exotic fabrics, this tiny cafe kept daytime-only hours and did not accept reservations, making it the perfect place for an impromptu rendezvous or shopper’s reprieve. While its gorgeous bento boxes and artful food disappeared along with Takashimaya's 5th Avenue outpost a few years ago, there is one small piece of solace. A fantastic cookbook was created by Tea Box chef Ellen Greaves and chef-photographer Wayne Nish: Simple Menus for the Bento Box while the cafe was in its heyday. The following soup is adapted from its featured recipe "Sweet and Snow Pea Soup" and can be made vegan, according to notations below. Feel free to use more fresh herbs if you enjoy their flavor.
Serves 6 as a starter or side dish.
1 cup water
1 cup gluten-free vegetable stock (the original recipe called for chicken stock, which is usually more delicate in flavor)
3 cups tightly packed fresh snow peas
3 cups fresh or frozen baby peas, shelled
2 Tbsps chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill
12-15 fresh chive stalks
2 Tbsps heavy cream (for a vegan adaptation, use coconut milk)
3 Tbsps sour cream, creme fraiche or Tofutti
salt, pepper (white pepper, if available) to taste
In a pot over high heat, bring the water and stalk to a boil. Add snow peas to the pot, reduce heat to low and simmer approximately 5 minutes. Add the baby peas and cream or coconut milk; allow to simmer one more minute--just long enough to heat through. Do not overcook or you could lose the vibrant green color.
Pour the soup into a blender with the mint, dill, and half of the chives. Secure the blender's lid tightly and puree for 2-3 minutes. The soup should be smooth when done. If you have a high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix), the soup is ready as is. If your blender is not as powerful and you have some fibrous or gritty parts to the soup, be sure to strain it through a fine-mesh sieve or Chinois before serving.
Transfer the soup into serving bowls and garnish each portion with a half-tablespoon of creme fraiche, sour cream or Tofutti and the remaining chives cut into various lengths.